37 virus cases identified at jail in Saline County

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19.

Thirty-seven people recently tested positive for the coronavirus at the Saline County jail in Benton, according to a news release from the county sheriff's office, but authorities said nearly all of the infected individuals have exhibited no symptoms.

Officials at the jail tested a total of 186 inmates and employees after a case was introduced into the facility, though the sheriff's office did not elaborate on when and how that occurred.

There were 119 inmates being held in the county jail as of Wednesday, according to an online roster.

The round of testing occurred after jail staff members were made aware of a covid-19 case that had been "unknowingly introduced into the facility by an inmate," the sheriff's office said in a news release Tuesday.

Only one of the people who tested positive was symptomatic, according to the release. Of those who tested positive, the sheriff's office said 34 were inmates and three were staff members.

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"The Saline County Sheriff's Office has been following all guidelines set forth by the Arkansas Department of Health and [is] taking all necessary measures to ensure proper treatment is being given to all involved," the release said.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, Deputy Rachel Calambas, did not respond Wednesday to follow-up questions sent through email and a voicemail.

Earlier this week, Calambas confirmed that a covid-19 case had been identified at the jail but said officials were waiting to receive more results from the testing before announcing the number of people who had been infected.

Jails and prisons in Arkansas and around the nation have proved to be hotbeds for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The largest outbreak at a county jail in Arkansas has taken place in Bentonville, where 189 inmates and 15 staff members at the Benton County jail have tested positive, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

County jails in Central Arkansas have so far managed to avoid a widespread outbreak, based on test results reported to state health authorities. However, several inmates and staff members recently tested positive at the Pulaski County jail, the largest county jail in the state.

Thousands of inmates at state prisons in Arkansas have tested positive for the virus, according to the most recent numbers tracking outbreaks in congregate settings, released by the Department of Health.